Meet ​Cathleen Gouveia, Design Principal at Cathleen Gouveia Design, Allied ASID

Q: How did you get started as a Designer?
CG: I was classically trained at The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan where I learned to draft and draw. My professors encouraged me to transfer to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) because my mind works differently than most designers and decorators. I find a narrative in the client’s words, in their life story, and what they are most passionate about - and I use that to inspire design. I initiated the Master’s Degree Program when I was at RISD, and graduated with a Master’s Degree in Interior Architecture and Design. After traveling extensively throughout Europe, visiting the best hotels, and observing significant historical interiors, I relocated from the East Coast to San Francisco. There, I apprenticed with several highly regarded residential and hospitality design firms and collaborated with leading antique dealers, artisans and craftsmen; vintage collectors and art dealers. After five years, I hung a shingle for my own interior design firm, CATHLEEN GOUVEIA DESIGN in Sausalito, CA. I worked my way into a variety of showhouses, HGTV, and then started designing residences for clients throughout the Bay Area and Lake Tahoe – the rest is history.

Q: Can you describe to our readers a description of your business?
CG: I am a high-end residential interior designer. My projects vary in size from a pied d' terre to much larger residences. Sometimes I design a room at a time, and sometimes I address each layer throughout the residence at one time from demolition through construction. I approach my work with a blank canvas or a, “tabla rasa”. As I tour a property and listen to a client speak about their lifestyle, their history, and their residence, I begin to formulate a design approach. I take cues from the architecture, and I hear a narrative which becomes the genesis for the work. I’ve often designed spaces to a movie, a song, a special book, an artist the client loves, a historical moment, a sport or process the client is passionate about, a fashion spread, or something found on the job site that resonates because it is a unique reflection of the client or their residence. I think about the five senses and how a space can be modified to highlight its assets. I love getting to know my clients because they inform the design experience; and ultimately the work that is a reflection of whom they are. I will not impose upon them as their designer. In the end, I try to evoke from them a stylish end result that has fine lines; is clean, comfortable and classic. The design will ultimately resonate with the homeowner’s unique personality and lifestyle. It is their residence and I believe it should be a celebration of those who occupy the space, not me. I think the, "unexpected" should inform the space, not decorate it. There is a difference between design and decoration. Design is a process.

Q: Please tell us what being a business owner means to you and why you became an entrepreneur in the first place?
CG: I was working in the New York advertising industry on Madison Avenue before I became an interior designer. Back in the day, I worked for Saatchi & Saatchi, Ally & Gargano and other creative, “hot shops” in New York City. One day at the agency, I ran across a story about the psychology of paint colors and how color affects human beings: their appetite, sleep patterns, energy level, optimism, etc. I realized the impact an interior designer has. I wanted to help improve the quality of life for people, and make a difference for those designed for. I have been honored to hear my clients speak about the difference their remodeled living spaces has made upon who they are as individuals. That is by far the greatest reward. Being an entrepreneur allows me to be a better mother. I have not missed a day of my son’s life, and I am blessed to also help my clients improve their lives at the same time. As a business owner, I enjoy seeing change – especially a radical, “before” and “after” story – not just the space, but my client’s lifestyle.

Q: What one thing have you learned as a small business owner that has served you well over the years?
CG: I have learned that interior design is a cyclical business that comes in waves. During periods of economic downturn, I take on smaller projects and more of them; while I build a reservoir of FF&E offerings (furniture, fabric, electrical) from around the globe; I use what could be down time to locate the top artisans and craftsmen to work with me when things pick back up again.

Q: What are some of the challenges you feel women face today?
CG: Income inequality, student loan debt, reversal of traditional role expectations, the need to provide for their children/families as well as business; and little time left for personal time. To overcome that, a woman must be flexible, organized, and filled with ingenuity and “hutzpah”.  I start each day with a strict, "to do" list, but juggle as needed to accomplish as much as possible...and always finish the day with a list for tomorrow.

Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
CG: I think you have to be ready to take on multiple roles; work more than one job, especially at the starting line; and learn to schedule your time so you can accomplish everything needed to succeed. It is also important to save for a rainy day. When natural disasters, illnesses, and unexpected accidents happen, (which is “life”) you have to have to be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat or turn lemons into lemonade.

Q: What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment thus far?
CG: In 2012, I was one of eight (8) interior designers selected nationally by Traditional Home Magazine to do a Showcase Design for the Inaugural Napa Showhouse at the Cardinale Estate Winery. I won two ASID Design Excellence Awards for that project. What no one knew was that I was rear-ended by a semi-truck en route to that Showhouse and faced a series of other very serious obstacles at that time. I learned a lot about inner strength, and resilience despite the odds, and I never ever gave up.

Q: Can you tell us how you manage your work-life balance?
CG: I wake up early to plan the day with architects and contractors, and the artisans and subs working on my projects. I then make breakfast and take my son to school. My work is very heavy from 8:30am until 4pm. I try to make time for my son every afternoon from 4-6pm, and often work late into the evenings to serve my clients. On weekends, I dedicate Saturday mornings to managing the home. While I am often with clients on weekends, I schedule time with them around my son's sporting events. I try to reserve an hour here or there for spin class, yoga, or a power walk. I schedule time on my calendar for myself, just as I do for my clients. At the beginning of the day and the end of the day, I express gratitude for various things. I find that rewarding and inspiring.

Q: When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
CG: I wanted to be a Park Ranger or an Actress. I am deeply inspired by nature and the outdoors. I also love a brilliant author, an amazing narrative or movie plot, and "change"; just as I love a mystery that takes time to unravel. Ever since I was a little girl, I have always had a passion for "the finer things" and a little, “bling” here and there. 

I believe in creating experiences and spaces that engage the senses and celebrate uniqueness. Design is not a commodity.

Five Things About Cathleen Gouveia

1. If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?
I would want to talk to Auguste Rodin or Michelangelo. I cannot decide which one. They both were pioneers of the art world, and despite the modern tools and techniques we know today, they accomplished the greatest works of all time. There were no light bulbs, power tools, or computers to assist these great masters. So many influences of Church and State worked against them - yet they still remain among the greatest of all time.

2. What do you like the most about living in the Bay Area?
There is a dichotomy between the wild natural landscapes and the diverse architectural landscape that is inspiring to me as an interior designer. It is a visual feast and we are surrounded by amazing artisans and craftsmen (and craftswomen).

3. What place have you always dreamed of visiting?
I’ve always wanted to visit Morocco and Majorca. I am intrigued by artifacts and antiques that are hand woven, textural, unique and one of a kind.

4. What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
Be true to yourself and never, ever give up.

5. Is there something else you would like to accomplish?
We live in an era of social responsibility. I am interested in finding ways to celebrate the works of art handmade by women in third world countries; to help them provide for their families; and locally, to help women in need support their children.

P.O. Box 1203
Tiburon, CA 94920

Tel. 415.203.8663 

Fax: 888.908.1634


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